I am Canadian.
I'm half German, some Swede, some Welsh . . . you know. A typical non-aboriginal descendant-of-immigrants Canadian.
And I'm not speaking for anyone but myself when I say that I have struggled with being proud and ashamed as a Canadian.
I grew up in an atmosphere of subtle and sometimes not so subtle racism.
It took a long time to realize it, because what you grow up with is your normal and it doesn't occur to you to question any of it until you are a certain age. Plus, I grew up with good people who would be horrified to think of themselves as racist. But in every social construct of my world, racism was a basic tenet. I slowly became aware of the reality of what other people were experiencing in Canada.
For me, it wasn't enough to understand and acknowledge my white privilege. Something inside me still felt like I was lying. I had to acknowledge that I am racist. That felt more truthful. And it made me work harder. It was not enough for me to say, "Yes, I have white privilege." When I admit to myself that I have been infected by the ambient racism floating around me, I am vigilant about watching for it in me. About expunging it.
Last Thursday, I watched the Prime Minister of Canada admit to the United Nations Assembly - and the world - that our country was/is racist. And I felt relieved. Like someone had finally shouted, "Hey, there is a big ugly elephant in the living room and we are just now deciding to get off the couch and do something about it." I felt hope.
I don’t pretend to know what it feels like to be First Nations, Metis or Inuit. I see only that this country needs to rethink everything. And the more we talk, the better. Not that there isn't a time for action, but madly off in all directions comes to mind when I think about this huge country trying to move somewhere together.
So I turn to the Truth and Reconciliation movement. For me, the Truth has been me educating myself about Residential Schools and the ongoing fallout of it all. I hesitate to talk about it because you can't encapsulate this in a few words and it feels so disrespectful to try. I sat and listened to a member of my community tell his story about Residential School and it was a profound experience. I was humbled by this man's generosity to even share his story with a circle of non-aboriginal neighbours.
But there is also Reconciliation. Moving forward together. We really do have to rethink everything and that is going to take a lot of talking.
But I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to declare my simple desire for change and justice for all of us without getting caught up in the maelstrom of shouting, name-calling, and finger-pointing that has become the norm in this country.
After I listened to the Prime Minister's address yesterday, it took all of thirty minutes for me to feel deflated again. His delivery is too polished, there was no real content, he ignored everything else, he is a hypocrite, he was only pushing his secondary agenda . . .
I did not vote Liberal, but this is my Prime Minister and since I sure don’t want the job, I’m behind him because he's willing to try - mistakes and all. I don’t always agree with my friends and family, either, but I don’t go on the internet and write diatribes about how evil they are.
I know that I'm not smart. I am not cerebral and eloquent, but I don’t see the constant criticism of others as a measure of intelligence, as many people seem to.
I also know that I am not an expert in any field and that people are passionate about their particular causes and in this moment, other causes were put aside. But we can't ignore this issue any more. I wonder what would happen if we could stop criticizing for a moment and just lean toward the light, together.
Thursday, I felt a flicker of hope. And I'm determined to keep that little flame alive in my heart. Maybe just choosing to believe the best once in a while is the start of change.
Maybe that's where reconciliation begins.
When my partner and I moved to the west coast from the prairies in 2003, our world changed in many ways. So much was different. I wasn't expecting culture shock, but you can find it just moving from one part of this vast country to another.
In terms of economics, we left a situation where our two full time salaries were more than enough to sustain us.
When we relocated to the coast, we encountered a much higher cost of living. We also found only part-time employment and settled into our new lives, learning to live with less.
We discovered Thrift Stores. I haven't bought a brand new pair of jeans in fourteen years. Now I can't imagine why I would. I'm willing to admit I have a somewhat skewed view of the world from over here on my tiny island, but seriously, who pays $90 for something they could get for $5??
Our island also boasts a Free Store and it is exactly what it sounds like. You should have seen me trying to get my mother out the door with the shirt she found. Yes, Mom, you just walk out. Trust me.
We didn't have TV for the first few years we lived here and without being regularly subjected to the barrage of messages about what we needed, we came to realize that life would not end if we didn't wax the floors. Or our legs. And whiter teeth don't impact your social status as much as we had been led to believe.
Other truths revealed in the absence of constant advertising:
- Chairs that have been sat on by others will still hold your weight.
- Cinder blocks and boards make great bookshelves.
- You can still be a contributing member of society if you don't own a microwave.
And then there's food. Do we live off the land, you ask? Well, if you could live off blackberries and clams, then yes. I'd like to tell you that we have learned to grow our own food, but that would be a stretch. We grow greens and tomatoes and herbs. Turns out my thumb is not green. It's big though, and I hitch hike and walk whenever I can. We drive a small, fuel efficient vehicle and walk to work most of the time anyway. We spend about $25 a month on gas.
We save up longer for vacations or new appliances, and we make choices about purchases more judiciously. All things we should have been doing anyway.
Then a health crisis shifted things even more. Shifted reality and, thankfully, shifted perception.
On the other side of that crisis, we find ourselves rediscovering life all over again.
And we are both thrilled to work only part-time.
My partner was taken out on the ocean by a friend to do a little fishing last Thursday. On a day that would have been a work day in the past, she saw porpoises swim by, she caught a beautiful (and delicious) red snapper, and she watched the drama of two Orca whales swimming toward a colony of seals. (The seals were all bunched together pointing at each other. Take him, he's fat and juicy.)
The highlight of her day, though, was sitting in that little boat for more than half an hour, watching a massive Humpback whale taking a nap about 50 feet away. It would rise slightly every couple of minutes and expose its blowhole. Psh. Don't worry.
Can you put a price tag on such a day?
We capped it off with dinner with friends. We ate in their yard, with deer munching a few feet away. We had fresh salmon, fresh beets, carrots and potatoes from their garden. Fresh strawberries for dessert. We talked about our amazing lives. All four of us work part-time. And we all have enough.
When I am on my death bed, looking back, will I wish I'd made more money? I hope I will be too busy remembering the sound of whales, the feel of sun-warmed cotton on my lake-cooled skin, the curious faces of seals, the great friendships I have enjoyed, the endless wonders I have encountered here in my new life, where I am learning to live with more.
In the spirit of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the other ways to share the minutia of one’s life with the general public, I have decided to write a post about going for groceries.
Grocery shopping. Yawn.
It was a beautiful morning. September 7 was unseasonably warm and I left the house shortly after 8:30 to drive across Cortes Island and get in line for the 9:50 ferry. As soon as I pulled my little Honda Fit onto the end of the long line-up, I knew I might be in trouble. I sat on the picturesque rock bluff overlooking the bay and read my novel. After almost an hour, the 9:50 pulled away full, leaving several cars behind, including my Fit. I moved into the car to continue reading for the two hour wait until the next ferry.
With approximately five minutes to go, the truck ahead of me inexplicably pulled out of line and headed up the hill. This left me at the head of the line, the first to load, with a back-of-the-boat, unobstructed view of the humpback that decided to do a little dance about fifty meters away from the ferry.
He breached two or three times, then lay on his side waving his fin back and forth.
In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he was waving me off. Go back. This is not your day.
As we arrived on Quadra Island, I heard a muffled announcement from the bridge but couldn’t quite make it out. I raced across Quadra for the 1:00 boat, only to see it sailing away as I arrived at the terminal. Oh, that’s what the Captain was saying . . . Overload at Quathiaski Bay – the ferry is leaving without waiting for the Cortes Island boat.
I turned around and whipped back up the hill to get one item off my chore list. I completed my task and hurried back to the terminal to get in line. I found myself out of the parking lot and up the overflow hill. How did that happen in ten minutes? I might make it, I reasoned. My Fit could fit.
The 2:00 sailing was overloaded and I waited another hour for the 3:00.
Arriving in Campbell River just before 3:30, I dropped a watch off at a jewelry store for a battery replacement and charged out to Willow Point to pick up the dog’s medicine at the Vet clinic. Then, I sped back to the jeweler to pick up the watch, and ran across the street to the bank to get some cash, since we no longer have a bank on our island. I stopped at the sea food store, got gas, picked up dog food, and headed for the grocery store. I was hoping to make the 5:30 boat, but I would have to be in top form at Thrifty's. Fortunately, my shopping list was organized according to aisles.
I was smooth. I was efficient. I made decisions with cutting precision. I packed my grocery bags and ran my buggy to the car. Approaching the terminal at 5:15, I let out a sight of relief. I was going to make it!
I rounded the corner by the terminal and my heart sank. The line-up said it all. I inched my way forward, bought my ticket and watched the boat sail away.
*Let me add a footnote here for my prairie friends. Pre-ticket booth is the really dangerous part of ferry life. Likely, you are in a rush. Should you take the time to pee before flying to the ferry? If you are the only driver in the vehicle, YES, YOU SHOULD. If you get caught in a pre-ticket booth line, you must stay with your vehicle to inch forward. One. Foot. Per. Minute. I know someone who got caught in a two hour pre-ticket booth line up with a full bladder. They still can't talk about it.
Being experienced (and mildly scarred), I had taken care of business at the grocery store.
I sat in my car and read for another hour, rifling through grocery bags for those nice nectarines I'd bought. In the rush of getting my chores done, I'd forgotten to refill my water bottle. Desperate, I searched the car for loose change, went to the waiting room for walk-on traffic, and bought some orange juice. (Did you know juice is cheaper than water in those machines? Don't get me started.)
The 6:15 is the last possible boat from Campbell River for cars heading all the way to Cortes, but making the 6:15 does not guarantee that you will make the 6:45 from Quadra to Cortes. I drove across Quadra chanting my ferry mantra. I pulled into line and checked the signal at the entrance to the ramp. Red light. Was that because they had finished loading or because they hadn’t started yet? I began making mental plans for an overnight stay on Quadra. I would be fine, but what would I do with $350 worth of groceries? Why did I pick this month to buy that expensive steak?
The light turned green and my hoot of joy was echoed in the cars behind me. The line moved very slowly. Unusually so. We were being waved around something big parked at the bottom of the hill; an 18 wheeler sat at the ramp entrance with two flat deck trailers carrying huge culverts.
The crew loaded all the cars tight against the outside edges of the ferry and saved the middle space for the truck.
I will spare you the exciting details of watching the crew help the driver inch the rig onto the ramp. Eventually, the front wheels of the rig came onto the ferry, pushing the boat lower in the water, and essentially high centering the truck on the ramp and trapping everybody on board.
While the passengers ate cookies for dinner, the crew tried everything they could think of to move the truck one way or the other. They told us maybe when the tide was high, the truck would be free.
Around 9:00, a tow truck pulled the rig backwards off the ramp and I thought we were homeward bound.
It took the driver (with lots of help) until 10:50 pm to back off the ramp.
We sailed home (and the Captain had the pedal to the metal; fastest sailing I was ever on) and I managed to get home by midnight.
I unloaded the car, had a bowl of soup, and went to bed just after 1:00.
I got up in the morning and cancelled my dentist appointment that was still two and a half weeks away. Wouldn't I be ready to face the ferries again in two and a half weeks, you ask.
Grocery shopping. Yawn.
p.s. Don't forget to leave me a note if you want notifications of new blog posts. (Scroll up and look on the right side of this screen)
Sunday Morning at Lac Cayamant
This sanctuary suits me.
Feathery dew clings
as I tip-toe
through an aisle of sweet green grass
in the pre-dawn blush.
The lake’s rendition of the sky is accurate,
but somehow, more appealing.
I reflect on this some muted pink moments.
My best hush
Still alerts Madame and Monsieur Duck
Allons-y, I hear
As they corral their little ones back toward the reeds
Ah, Mama, si tôt?
These babes are younger
than the Canadian Geese
rafting past my red chair at the end of the dock.
Twenty- three altogether, and maybe a dozen teenagers,
old enough now to swim ahead impatiently.
The marsh is a cathedral of chorus;
Scores of voices cry their welcome to the sun
as if this certainty is everyday a surprise! A gift! Hallelujah!
Heron’s raucous dissonance carries counterpoint to the joyful trills and whistles.
The graceful sentry sweeps across the purpling surface
while smaller birds hoot and whistle at his straight and studious line.
Fish jump – for bugs, I know –
but who’s to say it’s not for joy –
with such a glorious setting,
with such a choir.
I’d hoped to see my friend, turtle, but he sleeps late –
even later than the red-winged blackbirds,
who take the stage like headliners,
confident in the admiration of the warm-up birds
rushed now into the wings.
The sage loons prefer to make their morning prayers alone,
but one invites me to worship,
not twenty feet from the softly undulating dock I ride.
I will join you, I whisper
But I didn't have to tell her.
July 16, 2017
I woke early today, but the sun still beat me to it. So I sat and smudged in full light this morning and whispered aloud the words of Richard Wagamese that have become my morning prayer.
In this stillness, I am the trees alive with singing. I am the sky everywhere at once. I am the snow and the wind bearing stories across geographies and generations. I am the light everywhere descending. I am my heart evoking drum song. I am my spirit rising. In the smell of these sacred medicines burning, I am my prayers and my meditation, and I am time captured fully in this now. I am a traveler on a sacred journey through this one shining day.
Here on my deck, the trees truly are alive with singing, and the lake also, with the loons who have taken up residence at the far end.
Today, in my reading, I found this line: It seems to me the act of being spiritual is simply the act of allowing myself to feel my spirit move. (Embers, p.75)
I thought about that as I listened to the birds, felt the sun on my face, enjoyed the caress of the cool breeze. These are the things that move my spirit. These are the things that remind me of my place in this great tapestry.
I drank my coffee and let my mind wander. Before long, it landed on the characters I have spent the weekend with. My new novel is in the early stages and for the past three days, I have had a character or two with me everywhere I’ve gone. This morning, Agnes sits with me on the deck. She also loves the morning birdsong, although she is a bit uncomfortable with my dog, Jed.
Suddenly, I see something about Agnes’s life that is so obvious and true, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it until now. I grab my notebook and begin to scribble. In half an hour, I lift my pencil, see the world as it is, come back to it. I sit and eat granola and think about that little bit of writing and all the ways that it has shifted the entire story.
(I can’t tell you anymore than that. Although a few of you know the premise of The Vale, only Dave the CommaCzar Jenkinson knows how it's progressing, and it must stay that way for now.)
But I can tell you this: this process moves my spirit. Not the story – the process. The collaboration between my imagination and that unnameable quality of creativity that seems to live on and in the lake. And in the trees. And in the faces of strangers in the city. And in the impossibly soft fur of my dog.
I allow myself to feel my spirit move.
Richard Wagamese died earlier this year. His body died. His words are very much alive in me and countless others. His spirit is alive, in this stillness, in the trees alive with singing, in the sky everywhere at once.
I was lucky enough to attend Richard's last writing workshop. I left with a head full of ideas and a heart full of inspiration. It was truly one of the best workshops I've ever been part of. When I heard of his passing, I couldn't read his work for weeks. (And I read his work a lot: Keeper'n Me is like my bible.) I wasn't planning to buy Embers as it is a collection of his posts, most of which I had already read. But one day at a bookstore, I saw Embers and thumbed through it. It is a beautiful book, in every way. So I bought it and began to read. Bring these words into your life, Richard wrote of Embers. And I do. Everyday.
I will allow myself to feel my spirit move.
I have been working on a short story collection on and off for years. It's called Helen, hidden in shadow. I think of it as a life mosaic. One of those stories has been published in Chantwood Magazine and I have a soft spot for little Helen. The story is called, The Little Pirate and this pearl's grain of sand was a real little boy who lived here on Cortes and dressed like a pirate for months when he was four or five years old. There is a line in the story when Helen asks, "Do you know why this coat is so fancy?" in reference to her blue velvet jacket.
The real little pirate asked me that same question and his answer was this: "Because it's from Value Village!" I'll always like that answer better.
I hope you enjoy the story.
Click the link below and scroll down to Issue 4.
Winnipeg is the best city in Canada.
I know, I know - what about the weather? What about the mosquitoes?
Well, first off, what doesn't kill us makes us strong, and let me tell you, people who routinely go through an annual temperature range of 35 below to 35 above are not going to be easily killed by anything. Prairie folk are hardy and some of the best parts of prairie culture are born out of the geography and weather.
You ask what about the weather and bugs. I ask, what about the arts? The best professional ballet company in Canada. The amazing symphony, the best Folk Festival in North America, the Jazz Fest, Folklorama, the Fringe Festival, MTC, WAG, OMG!!
Restaurants? When I lived in Winnipeg, the city had the distinction of having more restaurants per capita than any city in North America. What do Winnipegers do when it gets really cold? They warm up the car, bundle up and go out for dinner. There's even a temporary restaurant on the frozen river in the coldest part of winter. Whatever world cuisine you are in the mood for, Winnipeg will have it - just another perk of the city's multicultural flavour.
Sports? I played ice hockey, ball hockey, spongee, floor hockey. I played volleyball, slo pitch, and touch football. If you can't find a team with whom to play what you want to play, you're just not trying. Prefer watching the professionals? There's baseball, soccer, hockey and football.
My recent visit was a reminder of why I loved my time in Winnipeg. The connections I made there are still important threads in the fabric of my life. I wouldn't trade the two decades I spent there for anything. It was a joy to be back and hug the people who made Winnipeg the best city in the world for me.
And, apart from Marnie's Books on Cortes Island, McNally Robinson is my favourite bookstore. It was a true pleasure to read in this lovely store (that had, days earlier hosted a Harry Potter Party in the park for 15,000 book-loving Winnipeggers!)
The launch featured a slide show of Cortes as an introduction to Full Moon Lagoon. We looked at some pictures, heard a bit of the book, had a little visit and then enjoyed a truly spectacular prairie thunderstorm. A perfect evening. Thanks again, to everyone who came out!
Lisa Gibbons, illustrator of Full Moon Lagoon
Cortes Island must be the most literary island of its size in the world. We have a population of 900 and our library has more traffic per capita than any library in the Vancouver Island Regional Library system. We have FOUR businesses on the island that stay open year round and one of them is a bookstore. The owner Marnie, had three local books brought in to the store on the same day. (Norm Gibbons, Sea Without Shores; Priya Huffman, of Bone and Breath; Full Moon Lagoon)
Kids here chat about books. No that's not a misprint.
Yesterday a dad told me his daughter had to settle a dispute between siblings over a shared copy of Full Moon Lagoon by lending one of the kids her own copy. Yup, if we're gonna fight, let's fight about who gets to read first!
We launched Full Moon Lagoon officially with about 90 people in attendance and perfect weather. Everyone enjoyed the Cortes History Trivia game and the kids got fun gifts as well as books from Marnie's Books (and Cortes Literacy Now).
It was a perfect reminder of why I live here; art is celebrated and appreciated.
Here are some pictures of our lovely evening together. Thanks, everyone!
It's been nearly two weeks since I arrived home from my visit to the New Denver Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre. I have tried many times to write down my thoughts about that visit and just can't seem to find the words. Perhaps there are none.
Instead, a few pictures from my visit and one memory:
I'm standing in a shack of less than 400 square feet that would have been home to two families. A wood bed frame with a thin mattress takes up most of the "room" in which I stand - there is no door. This is the sleeping space for one entire family and covers a full third of the total floor space of the shack. There is a thin grey blanket folded at the end of the bed. Light creeps through the cracks in the tar-paper walls. I shudder - in June - and wonder how bitterly cold this shack would have been in the dead of winter. I'm trying to imagine how it would feel to discover this was my new home. But there is no way for me to ever imagine the feelings of overwhelming loss, fear of the unknown, separation from family and friends, and utter betrayal by my country.